PESTICIDES:

House Republicans trying to use appropriations process to move permitting bill

Facing what appears to be stiff opposition from Senate Democrats as a deadline closes in, House Republicans are trying a new legislative tactic to advance legislation that would exempt pesticide users who spray over water from obtaining a permit under the Clean Water Act: They've tacked it on to an appropriations bill.

In the fiscal 2012 budget for U.S. EPA released earlier this week, House Republicans included H.R. 872 -- a controversial measure aimed at undoing a 2009 federal appeals court ruling that required EPA to issue permits for such pesticide users (Greenwire, July 6).

The bill has already passed out of two House committees with some bipartisan backing and earned the support of all the chamber's Republicans and 57 Democrats in a 292-130 March floor vote (E&ENews PM, March 31). The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee also approved the bill in a voice vote last month, but Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have put a hold on the measure (E&E Daily, June 24).

House Republicans say adding the legislation to the appropriations bill is an effort to get it through the Senate as a court-ordered Oct. 31 deadline for the new permits approaches.

"Hopefully this gets it done," Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the sponsor of H.R. 872, told E&E Daily. "Hopefully the Senate will finally pass an appropriations bill."

H.R. 872 would undo a 2009 federal appeals court ruling in National Cotton Council vs. EPA. The court said EPA must issue permits to farmers who spray pesticides over water under Clean Water Act authority because the agency's current regulations are insufficient for protecting waterways from pesticide contamination.

After winning a six-month extension earlier this year, EPA has until Oct. 31 to issue the new permits (Greenwire, March 29). The agency has said it plans to roll out the new requirements by the end of the month (E&ENews PM, April 27).

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said Congress must move quickly because the permitting requirements would place an additional economic burden on the country's farmers.

"Time is not on our side," Lucas said. "We have to explore every legislative option because the cost of inaction is far-reaching and significant and would be a crushing blow to an already struggling economy."

A spokeswoman for House Interior and the Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) echoed that sentiment when asked why appropriators got involved.

"Congressman Simpson is working with the Agriculture Committee to find other vehicles in order to get this bill passed and that is why it was included," said spokeswoman Nikki Watts.

The legislation would accomplish two objectives. It would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) so EPA could not require additional permits for pesticide use under the Clean Water Act. It would also amend that water law to prohibit issuing permits for pesticide use.

The Senate still poses a high hurdle, though.

Environmentalists, who have long said additional regulations are needed to protect waterways from pesticide contamination, applauded the National Cotton Council decision and have urged senators to oppose H.R. 872. In fact, more than 100 green groups sent a letter to Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) asking her not to take up the bill.

And Senate Democrats who oppose the bill do not sound like they are ready to budge. When asked about the House Republican tactic, Cardin said only: "We'll see what happens when it gets over to our side."

He added, however, that lawmakers are "working on common ground."

Reporter Manuel Quinones contributed.